The Future of Labour Is Not Pre-Determined
Interview with Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the situation of labour rights worldwide.
On 09.09.2019, German Development Minister Dr Gerd Müller presented Germany’s first textile label in Berlin. Starting immediately, the “Green Button” will mark textiles manufactured in accordance with strict environmental and social standards. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) invited around 300 guests from politics, the private sector, academia and civil society to the ceremony to launch the new sustainability seal. The first 27 pioneering companies to earn the “Green Button” were honoured at a subsequent summer reception. The Development Policy Forum was instrumental in planning the event.
Textile worker Shilpi Rani Das was just 16 years old when the Rana Plaza (a building with garment factories), where she worked in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed on 24 April 2013. It was the worst accident in the history of the textile industry with 1,135 fatalities and 2,438 serious injuries. Shilpi Rani Das was lucky to survive the Rana Plaza disaster. She gave the opening address at "THE GREEN BUTTON – WE CHANGE FASHION" on 9 September 2019 at the BMZ in Berlin, telling her story and describing the often appalling conditions many garment workers, most of them women, are forced to work in. Inhumane working conditions still prevail in many textile factories where social, environmental and safety standards are completely disregarded.
Six years have passed since the Rana Plaza tragedy. In 2014, Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dr Gerd Müller initiated the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles designed to improve conditions in the global textile supply chain. Minister Müller sees the introduction of the “Green Button”, the first government label for socially and ecologically sustainable textiles, as the next key step towards achieving fair globalisation in the textile industry. In his keynote speech, Müller stressed: "We can’t allow the “cheap at any cost” mentality to be our motivation. The “Green Button” sets a high standard and proves that fair supply chains are possible. As of today, no one can question their feasibility, as all the participating companies have clearly shown.”
Photo above: Dr Gerd Müller and Shilpi Rani Das. Photo: photothek
To earn the “Green Button” label, companies have to meet 46 social and environmental standards that cover everything from wastewater processing to eliminating child and forced labour. The entire company is audited during the application process. In the initial start-up phase, the “Green Button” covers the "sewing and cutting to size" as well as "dyeing and bleaching" production stages. In the next phase, it will be expanded to "spinning and weaving" and "fibre production and cotton cultivation" as well.
Inspection agencies such as TÜV, whose independence is guaranteed by the German Accreditation Body (DAkkS), assess compliance with the criteria. At the event, Dr Raoul Kirmes from the DAkkS noted that, "the introduction of state control over certification bodies for consumer-relevant labels and seals was long overdue. After all, consumers can only choose to purchase sustainable products if they are confident in the promises of the labels and certificates.”
Presenter Jan Hofer moderated the event at the BMZ and talked with a panel about the challenges of and opportunities for supporting, protecting and strengthening workers in the textile sector. Bangladesh Ambassador H.E. Imtiaz Ahmed thanked the BMZ for its serious commitment and emphasised his country’s ongoing efforts to significantly improve working conditions in the textile sector. Andrea Ebinger, Managing Director of hessnatur, also welcomed the introduction of the German label: "We feel the ”Green Button” could potentially pave the way for Europe-wide standards for ecological and socially fair textile production, if not more." Wolfgang Grupp, Managing Director of TRIGEMA, also praised the “Green Button”.
Managing Director of the Federation of German Consumer Organisations Phillip von Bremen said that the “Green Button” was on the right track, since three-quarters of all consumers are interested in sustainable fashion: "They quite rightly do not want to wear a T-shirt that has been sewn in 16-hour shifts for a starvation wages or dyed with toxic chemicals.” Taslima Akhter, a photographer and activist from Bangladesh, called for more attention to be paid to the circumstances and lives of textile workers in developing countries.
Ulrich Lilie, President of Diakonie Deutschland, and Frank Zach from the German Trade Union Confederation called on consumers to fulfil their social responsibility. Zach said the “Green Button” was a good start that would also allow people in developing countries to form trade unions, adding that additional legal solutions were needed to guarantee the comprehensive implementation of due diligence obligations in the textile sector. Many in attendance shared this viewpoint, and Dr Gerd Müller agreed that laws to govern supply chains would be a next step if voluntary commitment proved insufficient. The Federal Development Minister went on to explain that the “Green Button” criterion of paying national minimum wages had to be extended to living wages in a timely manner.
In the second part of the event, Dr Gerd Mueller awarded the “Green Button” to 27 pioneering enterprises that had successfully completed the accreditation process. At the awards ceremony, BMZ textile ambassador and model Barbara Meier talked about her personal experience with the fashion industry and called for a brighter spotlight on conditions in textile production. "We should never underestimate the power we have as consumers. At the end of the day, our demands and calls for change can shape an entire industry," Meier concluded.
Photo above: Photo: photothek
The award-winning companies included start-ups, medium-sized companies, well-known sustainability pioneers and large companies: Alma & Lovis, Aldi Nord, Aldi Süd, Brands Fashion, CharLe, Derbe, Dibella, Engel, Feuervogl, Hans Natur, hessnatur, Hopp, Kaufland, Kaya&Kato, Lidl, Manomama, Melawear, Millitomm, Modespitze Plauen, Phyne, Posseimo, Rewe Group, Schweickardt Moden, Tchibo, Trigema, Vaude and 3 Freunde. 26 other companies are currently under review. At the award ceremony, Minister Dr Gerd Müller appealed to all German textile companies to join him. The German government has set itself the ambitious target of ensuring that 50 percent of all textiles (uniforms, coats, bed linens, curtains, etc.) purchased comply with social and ecological criteria by 2020.
After the award ceremony, guests toured company booths and an exhibition by photographer and activist Taslima Akhter with pictures of Rana Plaza and textile production in Bangladesh. The event wrapped up with a summer reception hosted by the Bangladesh ambassador and moderated by Katie Gallus where guests had a chance to mingle while enjoying the music of the Toto Lightman Children's Choir and the African Mokoomba band.
Photo on top: Photo: photothek